Working with Leeds Libraries I’ve been delivering workshops to help people get inspired to design their own entry to the Games Jam. You can find more details on the competition here
The Games Jam itself takes its inspiration from the BBC 100 Novels that shaped our world. The list is diverse and eclectic; it sparks discussion and debate effortlessly. The novels that made the grade for the Adventure section are:
City of Bohane – Kevin Barry
Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
Ivanhoe – Walter Scott
Mr Standfast – John Buchan
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The Jack Aubrey Novels – Patrick O’Brian
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien
The object of the Games Jam is to bring these novels to life through games and inspire new readers. The games can be any sort – digital or analogue. Of course, I’m approaching it from a board games angle but you can’t expect any more from a person who can’t keep their mario kart on the track.
In the first session we focussed particularly on co-operative games. Co-operative games involve players working together to achieve a common aim or to defeat a shared enemy. Some popular examples are Forbidden series – desert, island and sky; Magic Maze, and probably the most famous of all – Pandemic. There are also plenty of co-operative games aimed specifically at children – Outfoxed, Slide Quest, SoS Dino.
Co-operative games are often referred to as co-op games and they commonly feature:
- Players working together against a puzzle – they may need to solve a series of puzzles to escape. The Exit games which are board game versions of Escape Rooms are puzzle based.
- Players may play against the game itself or the situation – often trying to escape something or rescue someone.
- Each character usually has a special ability – there’s often a medic with restorative powers as well as skills specific to the challenges present in that particular game eg water carrier, scout…
- As you are working as a team you usually need to share knowledge, skills, cards and there are often limitations on actions which allow you to share, hindering your progress – for instance you have to be on a shared space with the person you want to trade information with.
- There are always issues of balance inherent in co-operative games – for instance if I decide to use my actions travelling to share information with someone then I can’t do other necessary actions like healing someone or moving someone to safety. There are always difficult decisions and trade offs to be made.
- There are extra events that can benefit or disadvantage the team usually in a deck of cards – in some co-op games as soon as one person dies you all lose – in others like Sub Terra and Forest of Fate there’s a penalty but you can finish without the rest of your team.
- There are challenges built in to the mechanics of the game – characters actions, the game events, pieces that move against the players – sand that builds up in the desert impeding your movement, horrors in Sub Terra that hunt down the player nearest to them …
- Usually in rule books we start with a win condition. Complete the following actions, have the highest score and you will have won. However it seems more usual to list an alarming array of ways to lose in co-operative games! If one of you dies, if you run out of water, if there’s too much sand, if a certain tile is removed, if a marker reaches a certain point…..
Within and around these common features there is endless diversity in co-operative games. They come in all sorts of themes with all sorts of stories, mechanics, tricks and pitfalls. They are very popular.
One of the concerns that sometimes comes up when we look at co-operative games is that in some groups, one dominant person can lead the whole group’s experience. Needless to say, having one or two people in the group tell everyone what they should do on their turn is neither co-operative nor enjoyable. In a group where you don’t know people very well it can be difficult to deal with and beyond learning the game you may only really learn who you don’t want to play with again! If that is a recurrent problem in a group that you play with frequently a good alternative is to play a game like Magic Maze. In Magic Maze you are a team of heroes off to the mall to steal all the equipment you need for your next adventure. Because you are stealing, you must be stealthy. Therefore, this game is played in silence. Each of you has your own ability and you share control of the four heroes. There is no way to force other people to do what you want them to do. You can suggest that they should ‘do something’ by placing the ‘DO SOMETHING pawn’ in front of them and gazing beseechingly into their eyes but ultimately the team that wins really must work together. You must observe what other people are doing and adapt your actions. Oh and there’s a timer! Magic Maze stops the alpha gamer in their tracks and is a perfect leveller.
When played well and with a team who are keen to work together co-op games are loads of fun. You experience success and losses together, all berate the player who turns over the wrong card together (!), and you can end on a real sense of shared achievement. It can help unite your group if you have people at both ends of the competitive spectrum. Lots of people with children really enjoy them as it gets rid of that situation where one child either always loses or at least feels like they do. It is interesting to play them both with strangers and with people who you know well as sometimes the challenges show us different sides of people that we wouldn’t normally see. (And I do mean that in a positive way!)
For the purposes of the Games Jam and the theme of Adventure we focussed on games with a Choose Your Own Adventure mechanic which take players on an adventure: Tales of Evil and Forest of Fate – they both have strong use of setting and a strong storyline.
While the books are there to offer inspiration, setting, character and story there is no pressure to stick to them rigidly. We discussed the possibility of exploring the experience of characters who are perhaps overlooked in the novels, the use of choose your own adventure for characters to have adventures outside the confines of the novel, and to explore the world of the novel. There are few limits in this competition – the novels are more of a springboard than a constraint.
I always describe Forest of Fate as ‘like Dungeons and Dragons lite’ – you can develop your character as much or as little as you wish. It uses some of the main characters you would expect to find in DnD: thief, warrior, shaman, sorcerer, bard, ranger. The game comes with an online reference that you can use online or print out or, if you play it a lot you can treat yourself to the book.
Each character has a range of skills and a choice of two special abilities. These are the skills your party must use to make it through the Forest of Fate. As you go on your journey you may also gain items and artefacts which will help you.
I chose to share this game as I think it has so much flexibility designed into it. Each card that you pass through as you journey through the forest of fate has four different sets of numbers to take you to different locations in the book. Your skill level then dictates where you go next on your journey. There are lots of choices to make and as I said if you fancy you can role play your character and if you don’t you don’t have to.
Instead of characters who die going out of the game they have the option to take on a ghostly ability. When they die they can choose to become a vengeful spirit hellbent on messing up the remaining party who they blame for their death.
The second game we looked at was Tales of Evil. This is an 80s themed adventure game. Think Stranger Things – someone has gone missing and your gang need to find them. The theme of this one is brilliant it really is an immersive experience. All of the components are thoughtfully designed to add to the story. As you move around the game board you will have decisions to make – there may be areas to search where you may find weapons or other useful ‘stuff; areas that are blocked off, passages that you can risk going through. There are monsters to battle sometimes as a group, sometimes individually.
The game also includes Fusion events which I believe are unique to this game – for example you may have to creep in the room to not wake a monster. If there is any noise – your phone rings, someone knocks at the door, the dog barks – then the monster wakes and you follow the story this way. If you get through in silence then you follow that path! Or, it might be freezing fog and you have to find gloves. Set the timer and run! The idea behind this is a kind of horror movie vibe where the movie starts to seep into your real life. It’s very effective and adds to the tension and fun of the game.
Tales of Evil is a fairly complex game and here I have just given you a rough overview, just enough hopefully to get you thinking. The book which accompanies the game begins with a teaching round which is brilliant. It walks you through all the features you will come across as you progress through the story and explains how each element, mechanic, or component works. I loved this as I am the sort of person who learns each game by having a practice run through. I can not learn simply by reading the rule book. I have to layout the game, move the pieces and experience it.
Another lovely feature is that people are encouraged to write their own stories using the format in the book. Link here: http://www.talesofevil.com/toecreator/
One issue with the game is that despite achieving a balance of female/ male characters and dressing those females appropriately, there are too many white characters. When you’re designing a new game you must think about inclusion. Think about your audience. If you don’t see yourself represented in something – film, magazines, adverts, games why would you engage with them? I don’t know why you wouldn’t make a game as inclusive as possible.
Next week’s online session will be on the theme of Life, Death and Other Worlds. Find out more and join us here.
In the meantime if you are thinking of designing a game for the Leeds Libraries Games Jam have a think about these questions.
Think about complexity? How involved do you want it to be?
How long should your game last?
What age/ reading age is it for?
Are they board gamers?
The winning conditions in Forest of Fate were varied and basically involve some of you surviving! In Tales of Evil you win by rescuing the lost child and solving the Mystery of the Demon Puppet Mistress. (I haven’t finished it yet so I don’t know!) What will winning look like?
How easy will it be to win? Lose?
Is a co-operative game what you want?
What are the good things and bad things about co-operative games in your opinion?
Is choose your own adventure a good vehicle to explore the novel in your game?
Make a note of which elements you want to include?
Even if the players don’t determine everything, could you include some choices?
How much luck will be involved?
Come along to a Cards or Die event and play some games.